HAPPY END, drama, not rated, in French with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
When we last heard from Austrian director Michael Haneke in 2012, it was with Amour, his Oscar-winning film about the octogenarian couple Georges and Anne, a story of love and euthanasia. Anne was played by Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour), who died a year ago at the age of eighty-nine. Georges was portrayed by the great Jean-Louis Trintignant (My Night at Maude’s). I mention this because Trintignant is back in Haneke’s new film,
Happy End, again playing a character named Georges, the patriarch of the wealthy Laurent family of Calais. Isabelle Huppert, who played his daughter Eva in Amour, is again his daughter here, this time named Anne. Her thirteen-year-old niece Eve (Fantine Harduin) has just moved into the family compound to live with her father and his new wife and child, after the suicide attempt (more on that in a moment) of her mother. Is this a sequel? Or just evidence of the filmmaker’s fidelity to names?
(Caché, an earlier Haneke film, stars Juliette Binoche as a woman named Anne and Daniel Auteuil as a man named Georges.) In the new film, this Georges recounts to his young niece a key act from his past, which is inescapably out of the climax of Amour.
Happy End opens with a narrow vertical video image in the middle of the screen, shot on a cellphone. Eve, from a distance, records her mother preparing for bed. The girl accompanies the footage with acid commentary on her mother’s weakness. As the video continues, the suggestion emerges that Mom might not be the victim of suicide, but of Eve’s penchant for slyly administering drugs in excessive doses. The impact of that video footage lingers, making us uncomfortably aware that we’re voyeurs of all that follows.
Anne runs the family construction business and is engaged to a Brit (Toby Jones). Her ne’er-do-well son Pierre (Frank Rogowski) is a drunk whose negligence was probably responsible for a fatal workplace accident. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a surgeon, is cheating on his current wife with a cellist, and trying to adapt to having a teenage daughter back in his life. Eve is not the sort of teenager you’d be comfortable leaving the baby with. Georges has incipient dementia, and is trying to enlist someone to help him die. It’s that kind of a family.
Haneke sets this story against the backdrop of the impoverished African refugees who flood the port city of Calais. There’s a moral being preached, but it plays second fiddle to the chilly drama of this wealthy, dysfunctional family. Elements may carry over from the tender heartbreak of Amour, but the tenderness is nowhere to be seen. This is Haneke cutting with cold steel. — Jonathan Richards
What’s in a name: Jean-Louis Trintignant